It was great to be back in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup once again. After only winning one group game last year and thus failing to progress, this year marked a return to the quarter-finals. I must admit I was extremely nervous in the build up to the game. This was due to the combination of Wasps leading the Aviva Premiership and their back to back wins over us in the group stages of the same competition last year!
From the kickoff it was apparent that both teams had come to play high risk and positive rugby. Both Leinster and Wasps regularly kept the ball in hand, even within their own 22s and tried to play the ball out. Leinster dominated much of the opening quarter, but had precious little to show for this dominance, and Wasps should have brought the game to a one point margin of 8-7 if Le Roux hadn’t knocked the ball on attempting a dive over the try line. With the last play of the half, Leinster managed to disrupt the Wasp’s lineout and through quick thinking by Leavy and then brilliant passing by O’Brien and Sexton, Henshaw raced under the posts to send Leinster in at half time with a lead that reflected the superiority shown in the first half.
But credit must be given to Wasps who fought back in to the game through a stunning individual try by Wade, where he threaded through a delicate grubber and outpaced the defence to touch down. And then they brought the game to back within 8 points when ex-Leinster player Gopperth showed great acceleration and strength to score a lovely individual try of his own. This brought the game back from a dead-rubber to a tight two score game with another 20 plus minutes remaining.
Leinster however put the game to bed when McFadden scored a pick and go try after a brilliant break from Ringrose and a strong carry from Toner. From there the game was out of Wasp’s grasp and Leinster managed to play out the rest of the clock without conceding any further scores.
This was the strongest Leinster showing I’ve seen all season and really demonstrated Leinser’s instinct in attack and the strength and dynamism of their forwards. My one criticism was that early in the second half we had a few opportunities to score a try and put the game to bed, but we spilled the ball or gave away a cheap penalty, which nearly cost us when they got back to within two scores. Against Clermont in two weeks time, we will have to be much more clinical and take every opportunity if we have any hope of winning.
A special mention must be given to Leinster’s young players. I thought Ringrose had an excellent game and made some excellent breaks and tackles in defence. I also thought Henshaw was at his usual high standards and provided shuddering tackles and carries. Man of the match Carbery showed some brilliant touches in attack and set up 2 tries, despite being at fault for one of their tries. And finally I thought Leavy was excellent, tackling every that moved with ferocity but also showing subtle and sublime handling to link the forwards to the backs. With so many young players performing at such a high ability, it looks like Leinster’s future could be very bright!